Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A note on North Korea after Kim Jong-Il

Kim Jong-Il may have died, but North Korea is still damned.

Korea--the south, the north, the peninsula in toto--has been the subject of more than a few posts here at Demography Matters. Korea matters.

Right now, the North and the South are marked by notable imbalances: the south has urbanized, has completed the demographic transition, is in fact at the level of lowest-low fertility, and has begun to receive substantial inflows of immigrants, while the north remains substantially rural and substantially less advanced in the demographic transition and--obviously!--is far more a land of emigration than a land of prospective immigration. South Korea has reached the levels of First World; North Korea combines the worst of the Second and the Third Worlds, with an inflexible totalitarian economy broadly hostile to non-centrally directed enterprise in the context of terrible general poverty. Notably, the South is rather less xenophobic than the North; I wrote back in November 2010 about how the South responds to its deficit of women by sponsoring the immigration of women across East Asia to marry locals, while the North punished women who engaged in survival sex with Chinese men with--at best--the sorts of abortions that didn't involve being kicked repeatedly in the abdomen by members of the security forces.

In the event that the north's border controls weaken sufficiently, as I wrote back in March 2010 sustained mass emigration--to South Korea, an amplification of the existing marriage-driven migration to China, to anywhere--is much the most likely outcome for decades to come. East Germany lost two million people to the West after reunification, and East Germany was--by world standards--a high-income society with relatively advanced consumer industries and a high level of technology. What can North Korea plausibly offer its citizens, especially given the huge improvements in life chances awaiting a North Korean who left and the perhaps (alas) slim likelihood that a new government could trigger quick positive economic transformations.

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